We all have those moments as a parent when the disappointment and pain you experience with your child are too great to bear. Although parenting means giving unconditional love to children, the parent-child relationship is nevertheless a closer one than any other, which can affect our emotions greatly. But as parents, we need to show our children that we can handle our emotions and be rational, even at our lowest points.
Sometimes parents forget that they are role models for their kids, through good times and bad, and their children are vulnerable little humans who need their protection. According to studies, using harsh and painful words can harm your children as much as physical abuse.
No matter how upset you are, or however much you might be speaking out of concern for your children, there are things you should never say to them. These words can not only affect your children negatively, but also destroy your relationship with them.
Here are 10 examples of dangerous statements that will wound your children deeply, and tips on alternative ways to address your concerns.
1. “I’m so ashamed of you.”
This is a bad way to express your disappointment. No matter how upset you are with your children, point in a positive direction rather than pointing a finger to blame them. Instead, you could lead with, “I know you can do better, my son,” or, “It’s hard to watch you going in the wrong direction. You can count on me if you’re struggling. Just ask me—I’ll always be here for you.”
2. “Look at what you’re teaching your younger sibling(s).”
Although children need good role models, your older children cannot be held responsible for their younger siblings to the same degree that you can as a parent. You are there to guide your children in the right direction, but blaming older children for a younger child’s wrongdoing is not part of that equation. Always look at your children individually—even if some of your children are unable to walk the line, it is a parent’s role to lead them back to the right path. Never blame older siblings for younger children’s bad behaviour, and do not burden them with being a role model to their younger siblings.
3. “Why did I ever bring you into this world?”
This is one of the worst things you can say to your children. This kind of statement can permanently scar your child for a lifetime, and it would be hard to reconcile. Once you’ve made your child believe they were a mistake, it will be almost impossible to take it back. No one’s life should be anyone else’s regret—let alone one’s own parents. Life is a blessing, no matter what—and a parent should never characterize their own child’s life in an off-handed way, as though it were an inconvenience.
4. If you don’t want to follow the rules, get out of my house
This statement indicates that you are the boss of your child and you rule your house like a dictatorship, where your child can only have your support when they follow your directives. In other words, your love toward your children is conditional.
No relationship can last long when you force your way by holding someone’s financial dependency over their head, and begrudging their lack of contribution to your life.
If you are unhappy with your child’s disobedient and destructive behaviour, you have to focus on the problem to solve it together. Communicate with your child to find out the underlying cause of the behaviour, and work with him or her through discussion. It is important to address out-of-line behaviour early on, rather than wait until emotional barriers obstruct communication.
5. “Don’t ask me then, if you’re just going to do it your own way.”
Asking someone’s opinion doesn’t mean that person has to accept the advice and follow it to the letter. Even if your child takes a totally different approach from what you advise, in the end, they made their decision after seeking your opinion.
It is important for parents to be able to accept their children’s opinions and choices, even if they sometimes make mistakes or you can’t share their perspective. The only time you should be raising your concerns is when your child makes a decision that poses a risk to their health and safety.
“Words cut deeper than knives. A knife can be pulled out, words are embedded into our souls.”– William Chapman
6. “You’ll understand how I feel when you have a kid just like you one day.”
This statement makes it loud and clear that you are not happy having a child, and you want your child to experience the same unhappiness by having a child just like him or her. This type of comment doubles the pain and throws it in your child’s face.
What is the point of inflicting your own pain and insults at your child, no matter how dissatisfied you might be with him or her at the moment? It would be better to express your concern like an adult and work on it to make the relationship closer, than chipping away at the bridge between you and your child by inflicting your pain on them.
7. “Why can’t you be like other kids?”
Comparing your child with others and letting him or her believe you desire other kids above your own can devastate your child, who is likely to grow resentful toward you. Simply think about that statement coming from your spouse, for example, if a husband says to his wife, “Why can’t you be more like other wives?” Would you believe he respected and loved you and, for that matter, would you want to love him back? Quite the opposite, it would create distance and resentment between you and your spouse. In the heat of the moment, it may seem like a simple outburst of frustration, but it will scar your child’s heart.
8. “What is wrong with you?”
This rhetorical question is likely to be used by parents in a fit of exasperation, but it is an absolutely wrong way to express your frustration. This clearly states that you believe something is wrong with your child and you don’t understand them. This comment can make your child feel unaccepted and flawed, which can lead to self-consciousness and lower self-esteem.
9. “Don’t talk back to me.”
Parents, in general, tend to find it unacceptable when a child expresses his or her opinion against theirs. But according to children’s behavioural therapists, parents should allow their children to express their opinions, however nonsensical or unreasonable they might sound at times. Instead of telling your child not to talk back to you, try to patiently listen to their side as long as they do not cross the line with an aggressive tone or curse words. When they do, gently point it out by saying, “I’m willing to hear your thoughts, but let’s tone down your voice and not use cuss words when we talk, okay?”
10. “Who do you think feeds you and puts a roof over your head?”
Parents can feel their children are obliged to show them gratitude for carrying the financial burden and responsibility for taking care of the household. But thinking that we have power over our children because of our parental responsibility is wrong.
Children should not feel they owe their parents for the care that is their right as children. If parents want to make a point about their children’s lack of respect and appreciation, they can express their emotions without resentment. You might say, for example, “I see you’re upset with me for not letting you go to that concert, but you can’t say I don’t do anything for you. I wish you could see I’m trying to keep you safe here, and I’m juggling to build financial stability for our family.”
Parents should feel free to express their struggles and emotions, as long as they aren’t directing any blame toward others, and set a positive example by taking steps to get over their hardships. But forcing your children to acknowledge your hard work by exerting your parental authority will backfire, resulting in your children disregarding your efforts, losing respect, and growing resentful.
Parents should never think of their parenting role as granting them power over their children. Do not speak when you feel your anger taking over. When you are in control enough to raise your concerns, point in a positive direction rather than blaming or expressing your resentment. Even if your comments come out of your worries and concern for the wellbeing of your children, it is never a good idea to inflict pain that can cut ties between you and your child.
Instead, express your concerns directly but in a positive manner—and welcome your children’s opinions, involving them in finding solutions to problems. The most important thing is for your children to hear your concern for them in your voice, which cannot happen with angry, cold statements that come across as attacks against them. Let your children know you love them, and it hurts you when they walk in the wrong direction.
As Canadian poet William Chapman once said, “Words cut deeper than knives. A knife can be pulled out, words are embedded into our souls.” So be sure to choose your words wisely, to express your love for your children.
You might also be interested in reading these posts:
- What are attention-seeking behaviours, and how do you stop them and redirect your child?
- 7 symptoms of a highly sensitive child and how to parent them without daily struggles
- 10 best ways to stop being an angry mom